Vary the Reading Pace

23.08.2018 |

Episode #5 of the course Conversational writing: Engage your readers by Gay Merrill


Today, we move on from specific words and terms you need to avoid to sentences and reading pace.

Sentences that are all similar in length produce boredom. And ultra-long sentences (25 words or more) are difficult to read.

To make your writing enjoyable, vary the pace.


Break up ultra-long sentences. Combine short sentences when you have too many. And use sentence length variety:

• ultra-short sentences

• sentence fragments

• single words

Let’s take a look at each of these.


Ultra-Short Sentences

An ultra-short sentence is super short (of course) and contains a subject and verb. In some ultra-short sentences, the subject is implied.

Ultra-short sentences draw attention to your words.


• He was late.

• Clap with me.

• The guard stood his ground.

An ultra-short sentence provides a punch to your writing. How long is an ultra-short sentence? That depends more on the length of the other sentences in your writing. What’s important is the sentence length contrast and variety.

Caution: Don’t mix in too many ultra-short sentences, or they’ll lose their effect and become boring.


Sentence Fragments

A sentence fragment (aka a broken sentence) is part of a sentence and is missing a subject, a verb, or both.

When we speak, we often use short phrases and words to make a point. A sentence fragment in your writing has the same conversational effect.

A sentence fragment is short, and so introduces a break in the rhythm of your writing.

Because a sentence fragment stands out, you can use one to emphasize a point.


• The writing tips are short and simple. But effective.

• Who wounded the Jedi and left him to die? The guard, not the spacetrooper.

• She made her last payment. No more debt.


Single Words

Ever notice writing that uses a sound effect like *Sigh* or a single word question like, “Well?” These single words help vary the pace.

Introduce a single word paragraph to add white space, which makes your writing easier to read.

Use a combination of long sentences, ultra-short sentences, sentence fragments, and single words to vary the pace of your writing.


Test the Pace

The best way to test the pace of your writing is to read it out loud and listen to the rhythm. Combining longer and shorter sentences to create rhythm requires work, a good ear, and practice. While you practice, write and read a lot. And take note of how other writers vary their sentences.

Varying the pace will make a difference to your writing. The rewards of your efforts will be worth it.



Take a piece of writing that lacks sentence length variety. Use the techniques in this lesson to make it more interesting and conversational.

Now that you know how to vary the pace of your writing, next lesson, you’ll look at your writing flow.

Have fun writing,



Recommended book

Spunk & Bite: A Writer’s Guide to Bold, Contemporary Style by Arthur Plotnik


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